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The Vita Interview

February 21, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Today, Sony launches its latest portable console, the PlayStation Vita, in North America and Europe. The PSP, its last attempt, initially fared well -- until a mixture of piracy, shovelware, and a drought of killer titles killed the platform dead outside of Japan. Has the company learned its lessons from that system well enough to make a success of this one?

If only it were that simple. This time around, Sony also faces stiff competition from Apple's iPad and Android tablets such as the Kindle Fire. The market has changed drastically since the PSP launched and all Sony had to worry about was Nintendo -- which has seen a major resurgence of its Nintendo 3DS handheld since its lackluster launch, too.

To find out if the company has what it takes to make a success of the Vita, Gamasutra spoke to Scott Rohde, Sony's senior vice president of its Worldwide Studios organization, to draw a bead on precisely what's changed and how seriously the company takes these threats to its success.

You executed a very large and diverse launch lineup, with different kinds of games, but it just doesn't seem to be generating the kind of buzz I feel like it would have been generating a couple years ago. Do you agree, and what do you think about that?

Scott Rohde: Well, it's an interesting point, and I think that the difference is there's just so much out there -- a lot of different things to experience these days. But I am incredibly confident that when people get this thing in their hands, they're going to be thrilled beyond belief with what it is they're touching and playing, and they're going to realize that it's something they haven't experienced before.

And I think you see that sentiment from some of the people who have been able to spend some time with it, and I'm confident that that's going to carry over to the more mainstream audience as soon as they get a chance to get their hands on it.

When you say it's something people haven't experienced before, what do you mean by that?

SR: Well it's just something that there's a level of quality that you're not used to seeing on a handheld device. So for example, last night I was one of the lucky early few to get my hands on one of the proof cartridges for MLB: The Show. Of course, I've played various different sports games on all sorts of different platforms, whether it be the PSP, the DS, even the 3DS and iPhone, iPad, what have you. This experience on MLB is so far superior to anything I've ever played on a portable device that it really leaves everything else in the dust.

And of course it's going to sound like I'm coming from a biased perspective, but at heart, I'm a gamer that owns all of these devices, and plays on all these devices, and I can tell you right now, everything else I own is going to gather dust for a while, because these experiences are so far superior to anything else.

Is that because of the horsepower of the system, or its control, or just the actual games that are being made, in your opinion?

SR: I think it's a little of all of the above, and I think when you also take into the account that there's a lot decent cross functionality between our home console the PS3 and the Vita. I think there's a lot of neat messages to go for here. So again, specifically with MLB, horsepower in terms of everything you can do graphically on that machine, there's going to be a lot of people that pick this up and say, "Wow, this really feels like the same quality I'm used to on my PS3," and that's a huge statement.

I mean -- not making this up -- completely independent of this interview, I just came back to San Diego after a lot of travel, and I was literally walking to each of the engineers and artists on the team telling them how impressed I was with the game, just in terms of its graphic quality. But not only that, the fact that I can play it on my Vita and I can save it to the cloud, and I can go pick it up at home, that's a great experience.

How long have you been at Sony personally?

SR: I started in late 2003 so, if you can do the math, it's eight-plus years.

So you were there for the entire lifespan of the PSP.

SR: Yes, I was. You know, there's nothing quite as “fun”, in air quotes, as a hardware launch. So I was around during that time, for sure. In fact, when I was just walking around with this team, I was talking about the incredibly vast difference between the launch of PSP and the launch of Vita in my book.

Which is the fact that many teams really struggled to get a comparable experience out the door -- an experience that was comparable to the PS2 -- and there are a lot of teams that are already achieving great heights in that manner for Vita, when compared to the PS3.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Ryan Pielow
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+ The cheapest Asus Transformer Prime SKU MSRP's at $399, plus a PS3 controller for $55 brings the bundle to $454, almost $200 more than a vita with a 4GB memory card ($270)

+ The average user probably wont want to jump through the hoops of syncing a PS3 controller to an android tablet (assuming they have a tablet that is compatible with the app you are suggesting to use).

+ It seems inconvenient to whip out your 7 inch tablet and prop it up on your lap in a bus while you play with a PS3 controller. A compact, easily portable form factor seems like an obvious benefit in this case.

+ I wouldn't consider GTA3 (a 10 year old PS2 game) running at an inconsistent 20FPS (judging by the video) with a jury rigged control scheme a "Skyrim-style" experience.

I'm not saying that tablet gaming will never offer an experience comparable to current portable console (or home console) experiences, but I think Scott is right in saying the current state of tablet gaming doesn't compete with traditional consoles when it comes to controls, depth and polish.

I will concede that the pricing model for new "premium" games for the vita/3ds (or any console for that matter) is too expensive, but that is what amazon deals are for.

Matt Walker
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I would argue that the comparison between making a "Skyrim-style experience" is quite a bit different from GTA3 on the Android. First and foremost that GTA3 is a -port- of a last-gen sandbox game. Dev costs between ports and something completely new of that size would most likely be completely different beasts from one another.

I would also argue that the number of people willing buy a tablet with built in controllers or use a separate PS3 controller with the tablet would be far less than those willing to buy a dedicated gaming system with the controller built in to it ala Vita.

Dave Long
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@ Dan, your argument is pretty poor. For a start, support for optional controllers is a _lot_ different from standardised game controls built into the system. Take peripheral support on PC or consoles as a great example, or even the very much touch-and-go gamepad support on PC.

And then, after you've got your controller, how are you going to hold the tablet while you're gaming portably? And if you're not playing portable games, why on earth did you buy a $500 tablet (twice the price of the Vita) to game on with a controller? It'd have to be the least cost effective controller-enabled option available.

And, of course, if you're buying a $500 device to play games on with touchscreen, are you really going to be looking for ports with relatively clunky (compared to stick and button controls) of a game that's more than 10 years old? Comparing an 11-year old game for a last-gen system, with Skyrim, is just plain ridiculous.

As is not being able to see the difference between touch-based tablet/smartphone gaming and sticks and buttons. Apart from the tactile feel and the far better response of sticks to touch-based virtual sticks, it's also far easier for the fingers to access a greater range of controls quickly than it is with touch only (Dead Space on mobile is a great example - it's a great game, if you play it on the Xperia play - it's a clunky game with a great atmosphere if you play it with touch).

And, as before, if you're hooking up a controller to your smartphone/tablet, it's starting to look somewhat less portable (hard to hold both at once ;)), and it's expensive enough as a portable option, without being a ridiculously expensive non-portable one!

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Dave Endresak
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It's interesting that he didn't mention the huge success of the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva games from Sega. After all, she is a worldwide success without being officially offered outside of her native Japan except for the debut American concert last summer and the Singapore concert last fall. She was also voted the second most popular game character in Japan (after Mario) for Yahoo! Japan's annual popularity poll in fall 2010. Her global poplarity continues to rise as more and more people outside Japan learn about her and the other Vocaloid characters, particlarly Crypton's, but also others such as SeeU. There are people outside Japan importing the games for their PSP even with the terrible exchange rates.

It will be interesting to see the new Project Diva game from Sega for the Vita. Many people are hoping that it includes AR capability.

As far as the tablet argument, I think that he was technically accurate in saying that playing Skyrim on a tablet isn't a 99 cent experience. Tablets are very expensive. I mean, I look at a tablet with a base cost of at least $400-$500, plus maybe $100-$200 more if I really want a powerful machine (and no accessories/plugins), and then I look at a full scale gaming laptop for $1100... well, it's pretty obvious which one is the better buy at this point. Compared to $300-$350 for the Vita with dedicated gaming controles, it's pretty obvious which one is superior for gaming. Also, games like Skyrim have much better control with keyboard and mouse than game controllers.

If tablets drop in price but have the same capabilities, we'll see. Right now, they are only for a certain specific market segment (i.e., one who doesn't want a full scale gaming laptop for whatever reason).

Same problem with smart phones... they are far too expensive for anyone who doesn't use the phone very much (or at all, really).

The current market reminds me of back when cell phones first started going mainstream. Within a few years, cell phones dropped way down in price (like 10% of what they were several years earlier).

I think it all depends on how the market evolves and what the various needs are for specific segments. As he said, we'll have to see.

Nathaniel Marlow
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I wonder what his definition of "the long term" is in terms of piracy protection.

evan c
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"Sony's been very, very open about the fact that piracy really hurt the PSP"

I personally think that poor marketing is what really hurt the PSP and piracy the second.

Their ads are either controversial(psp b/w) or just plain annoying(marcus), most of the times they just don't bother advertising at all(Ghost of Sparta.)

Also compared to Ms and Nintendo, Sony's the only company that is relying on 3rd parties to sell their consoles/handhelds. Uncharted and GT are good and all but they're not system sellers like Halo or Mario. Specially in Japan where they have nothing that interest the people there.

Brian Tsukerman
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For anyone who doesn't want to read this entire thing, I'm looking forward to seeing what the Vita can do, but Sony's history of hyping their systems with more features than they can handle has convinced me that early adoption is simply not justified.


To start with, I am looking forward to the improvements that the PS Vita brings to handheld gaming, and am especially pleased to hear that they've taken precautions to avoid the game drought that both the PSP and PS3 experienced. Nonetheless, I'm concerned with Sony's habit of offering more options than will likely be supported by either themselves or the developers, which is something that the Vita is at risk of as well. On the one hand, I understand how such an approach grants flexibility to the pre-launch hype that has preceded both the PS3 and the original PSP, and how it makes the systems seem closer to being a "Renaissance system" than a specialized piece of technology.

However, it seems to me that as the life cycle progresses for a Sony system, there's always several "innovative" ideas that were originally announced that are subsequently underutilized or abandoned, which makes me skeptical on exactly how much of what is being offered will actually last. Some examples come to mind in particular:


- Remote Play sounds like what they're advertising in the MLB commercial right now. Too bad it was so incredibly poorly supported by anything that actually mattered like most games and movies

- Was to function as a controller for the PS3. I don't know of anyone who used it though.

- You could play multiplayer games with others who had a PSP nearby, but it was a miracle if you could find a person that both owned a PSP and the game you were playing.

- Microphone & VoIP. I need to research what percent of the systems total game sales used the microphone, but I sense the answer is "negligble." And who the hell used it as a phone replacement?

- You could browse the internet, so long as you're comfortable with using a joystick to navigate pages and can make due with the atrocious virtual keyboard that Sony still implements

- You can watch videos on it, which was a big pro over the DS, but is universal amongst smartphones and tablets now

- You could read Marvel digital comics on it. Oh wait, that was discontinued.

- TV output, in case you want to show everyone in the room what you're playing. Otherwise, why?

- With the PSPGo and Vita announcements, you were supposed to be able to convert or trade your UMD's for digital versions of the game on the newer system. Both were canned stateside due to lack of demand, which I can understand.

- PSPRoom, something like a PSP approach to Playstation Home, which I honestly didn't even know about until looking it up just now.


- Backwards compatibility, which only lasted for first generation

- Region free, which while technically true, is still largely restricted according to whether your television uses NTSC or PAL standards. All-in-all, though a minor positive.

- Can use the Playstation Eye to play games. A carryover from the PS2 where it was hardly used, same here, but seems like it's being targeted for resurgence as a Kinect-esque feature for Sony's next console generation. Not sure if I'd rather have that or the 3D visor.

- Can use PSMove instead of standard controller, which already seems to be falling to the wayside a bit due to news about the PS Eye.

- Sixaxis controllers, originally the standard that Sony felt warranted removing the Dualshock feature. And yet, Dualshock controllers remain the norm, and I can't remember the last time that Sixaxis was used in a PS3 game to any significant purposes.

- Playstation Home. Woo 19 million total downloads! Why can't I find out its MAU or DAU though?

I don't honestly expect every game to incorporate every feature. But the usefulness of a given feature is only as great as the game(s) that best implements it. And though I love games made by smaller, independent companies, I'm confident that the lion's share of the best-selling games will be from major studios rehashing existing intellectual properties, which indicates what the majority of peoples memory of playing with the system will be. It is upon these games, how fun they are and how well they use these new inputs, that Vita's success/value/longevity depend upon.